Tuesday, December 29, 2015


I have loved Calvin and Hobbes for a very long time, and Martine Leavitt's Keturah and Lord Death has been a long-time favorite of mine, so naturally I was intrigued by anything that promised a mash-up of two things I love. Once I got over the initial coincidences: Calvin was born on the last day Bill Waterson's famous comic ended, his grandfather gave him a stuffed tiger and named it Hobbes, and his neighbor is a girl named Susie, I really enjoyed this story.

CalvinCalvin's life seems fairly normal--aside from the whole not-having-friends thing (Susie, who used to be the closest thing he had to a good friend, recently decamped for a more popular crowd). But then comes the day when he's about to fail English and biology--and Hobbes starts talking to him. Hobbes, the stuffed tiger his mom dissolved in the wash years ago.

One hospital trip and new diagnosis later, Calvin learns a name for what has brought Hobbes back: schizophrenia. Now, he's convinced that if he can pull off a risky stunt and walk across a frozen lake Erie, he can persuade Bill Waterson to write one more comic of Calvin, as a 17-year-old, without Hobbes--and he'll be cured.

But things, of course, don't ever go entirely as planned.

I loved Calvin's voice--I liked how Leavitt managed to create a believable boy who clearly questioned the signals his brain sent him, but who never despaired because of it. And I was astonished at how she managed to make a long walk across the ice interesting, suspenseful--and even funny. If the ending was a little underwhelming, well, that's sort of how life goes a lot of the time. The story was worth it for the sympathetic portrayal of schizophrenia, Susie's strength, and Calvin's own beautiful brain.

I also ADORED her homages to Calvin and Hobbes. Anyone who's familiar with the original will appreciate the occasional appearances of Spaceman Skiff, his alien teacher, the transmogrifier, and more.

Some passages I loved:

"It was slower going when you were walking on snow and around chunks and ridges of ice. But it felt good to be in the dimension of nothing. Close to four o'clock now, the sun was lower on the horizon, a whiter hole in a white sky. It didn't shine. It looked like a dead sun, a ghost sun, as if the heat had all burned out of it." (Evokes the deadness of the landscape, the dangerous onset of night.)

"Susie: Doesn't it make you feel kind of awesome that the world is beautiful for no other apparent reason than that it is? Like beauty has its own secret reason. It doesn't need human eyes to notice. It just wants to be glorious and unbelievable"

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

I've wanted to read Patrick Ness's latest for some time--in addition to good reviews, I was so impressed by his spearheading a massive fundraiser for Syrian refugees. Luckily, I enjoyed the book--though to be honest, I'm having a bit of a time being totally objective because I LOVE the premise of this book so much.

The Rest of Us Just Live HereI'm a fan of YA fantasy--and it's hard not to see the trope of the chosen one get used (and over-used) again and again. In this quirky contemporary fantasy, our hero and his friends are decidedly NOT part of the chosen one clique--that honor belongs to the Indie kids, a group of smart, odd, poetry-loving kids with hipster names who tend to die frequently in conflict with some group of paranormal beings. The hero, Mikey, just happens to live there. So the book unfolds as Mikey deals with his worsening anxiety, his feelings for one of his best friends, and a complicated family life, all against the backdrop of some kind of supernatural event that involves blue light and resuscitated dead deer (among other things).

It's an odd sort of juxtaposition, though, where the major story line involves small things and a quiet plot, while big things are happening in the background (the chapter headings, which explained what the indie kids were up to, made me laugh). I didn't love the story, though I thought it was well-executed (it just didn't resonate with me personally). But the concept alone was worth reading for. Some language and sex (not explicit).

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ivory and Bone

Ivory and Bone I was lucky enough to read an ARC of Julie Eshbaugh's masterful debut. This is a book I've wanted to read since I first heard about it--a YA novel set in pre-historic era is unlike anything else I can think of in the market right now. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect going in, but that didn't seem to matter--Eshbaugh drew me in almost at once with her sharp prose and interesting characters (and she manages to pull off a second-person narration, which can be extremely hard to do).

Ivory and Bone follows Kol and his family, a pre-historic clan living on the fringes of the great ice, where they hunt mammoth and other animals for meat and furs. The world Eshbaugh describes is one of incredible beauty and incredible danger, and that tension undergirds Kol's story, as his family--already worried about the future of a clan in which there are no young women for Kol and his brothers to marry--celebrates the arrival of Mya, her sister and her brother, members of a thriving clan to the south. This arrival promises welcome alliances and friendship between the clans, but almost at once, Kol and Mya find themselves wary of one another--a hesitation that's only complicated by the arrival of still a third clan and the slow unveiling of deep-held secrets that might destroy them all.

Eshbaugh does a wonderful job of fleshing out an unusual world. Though my life is nothing like Kol's, I could understand and relate to his worries--his fears for the future and his more immediate fears of being stalked by a saber-tooth tiger--and the pleasure he takes in hunting for honey. The relationships she draws were moving and believable, and I loved the slow unfolding of Kol's friendship with Mya. As the action climaxed, I couldn't put the book down. Definitely one to read in 2016!

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Girl from Everywhere

If you don't follow Heidi Heilig on twitter (@heidiheilig), you should. Not only is she funny and smart, but she posts the most amazing book-inspired fashions for all the 2016 debut authors.

The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere, #1)I wasn't at all surprised to find that Heidi's debut, THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE, is as delightful and detail-conscious as she is. Sixteen-year-old Nix was born in 1868 Hawaii, but she hails from, well, everywhere. Her father is a Navigator, able to travel across time in his ship, so long as he has an accurate map of his destination. His current obsession is returning to 1868 Hawaii, to save Nix's mom before she dies giving birth to Nix. But much as Nix has loved traveling with her father, much as she likes the idea of meeting her mother, this is one destination she wants to avoid at all costs: if her father succeeds, it might wipe out Nix's very existence.

While much of the book deals with Nix's wrestle with her father's obsession, there's so much more. When they arrive in 1884 Hawaii in search of the much-sought-after map, she meets a range of new characters who challenge her in new ways, and she falls in love with the island that might be the closest thing she has to home.

The characters in Heilig's debut are charming, from strong-willed, smart-mouthed Nix, to her friend Kashmir, a talented thief; to the more-straight laced American-Hawaiian boy she meets in 1884. But what really sold me on the story was the details: the deftness with which Heilig throws in a casual reference to the Arabian tales cheek by jowl with the sky-herring who light the lamps of the Temptation (her father's ship). The story itself is interesting, complex, and fast-paced, but it was the attention to wonderful historical details that made me fall in love with this story. 

Rebel of the Sands

Rebel of the SandsI've been wanting to read Alwyn Hamilton's REBEL OF THE SANDS since it was announced. (Really: her announcement was at the top of Publisher's Weekly's deal announcements the same week mine was announced. It was hard not to notice!)

So I was not unnaturally thrilled at a chance to read an ARC--and I loved it just as much as I hoped I would. Alwyn's world--a desert kingdom inspired by Arabian culture with religious links to the First Beings (djinn and other mystical creatures)--is so vivid. But it's not an easy world, and for Amina, a sixteen-year-old orphan living in Dustwalk, in the middle of nowhere, all she wants to do is get out. Her opportunity comes in the unlikely form of a boy named Jin, who's wanted by the Sultan's soldiers. But as Amina gets farther from the world she was born to and learns more about the politics destroying her native land and the rebellion growing to change that, the  more she begins to question who she really is--and what she wants.

I loved this book--I loved Amina's strength, and Jin's humor (even when it got him in trouble. Or maybe especially then). I adored the setting, how I could imagine riding through the night across a Nightmare-haunted desert. The story is wonderfully paced too. It has all my favorite things: a unique setting, a powerful romance, and terrifying and powerful creatures. Really, a book for all YA fantasy readers to enjoy.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Under a Painted Sky

Author Stacey Lee is a lovely individual (smart, supportive of other writers), and her debut, UNDER A PAINTED SKY is equally lovely.

Under a Painted SkyChinese-American Samantha dreams of returning to her beloved New York to study music (it's 1849): instead she's stuck in the middle of nowhere working a dry goods store with her father, who talks of moving to California. Angry and frustrated, Sammy wanders the town trying to work out her feelings, only to return home to tragedy. When the tragedy is compounded by a horrific accident, Sammy finds herself on the open road with a runaway slave, Annemarie. The two girls disguise themselves as boys and fall in with a trio of cowboys also headed west.

While the bulk of the story is about their adventures on the open road, this is really a wonderful story about friendship and the indomitable human spirit. Sammy has a wonderful voice, and though the plot is quite exciting at times, it was really the story of her unfolding friendship with Annemarie (Andy) and West that kept me reading.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here

Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here From the moment you start Anna Breslaw's witty, heart-felt SCARLETT EPSTEIN HATES IT HERE, it's pretty clear that Scarlett is not your ordinary teen--and Breslaw isn't your ordinary writer.

Scarlett's a smart, acerbic teenager who'd rather live on the boards of the fandom for her favorite TV show than interact with the real-live teenagers in her high school. When the TV show is cancelled, Scarlett, desperate to keep some of the top fanfic writers together, proposes a new twist on the show: fanfic with original characters. The only problem? Scarlett models these original characters on real people, including her long-time crush Gideon who has recently, inexplicably, joined forces with the Populars. And that's only the start of Scarlett's complications.

As other reviews have noted, this isn't a plot driven novel, so much as it is an intimate look at Scarlett's life, her struggles to fit into a virtual and real life that don't always have clear-cut boundaries, her strained relationship with both her mother and the writer father she idealizes (but who has left them behind for a new family in NYC). No one in this story is perfect, and that's part of what makes the story so wonderful--a perfect blend of humor and heartache. Really though, Scarlett's voice carries this story--she's the kind of person I would have loved to know in high school (though I'm afraid she would have been too cool for me).

Some language, discussion of sexual situations.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Burning Glass

A year or so ago, I met a lovely author (really, she's lovely inside and out) who later agreed to read an early draft of my novel. She gave me some wonderful feedback, and later, when I was trying to decide on an agent, helped sway my decision by telling me how supportive her own agent had been--and how he had just sold her first book! (Full disclosure--her agent, Josh Adams, is now my agent as well).

Burning GlassFast forward to last week, when I finally got to hold Kathryn Purdie's book in my hands. (One of my very favorite things about being a 2016 debut is getting to participate in the ARC tours and reading books early). I've wanted to read this since she was still drafting it! And it did not disappoint.

Sonya is an Auraseer, able to read others' emotions, which means by law she belongs to the empire. Her parents' attempt to hide her with traveling Roma caravans failed, and Sonya is immured in a convent where she's supposed to learn how to control her deep empathy. But after a tragic accident leaves Sonya the oldest auraseer in the convent, she's whisked away to the capitol city to take the place of the Sovereign Auraseer (the most recent has been executed for failing to stop the dowager empress's murder).

Already the stakes are high--Sonya's life is at stake if she fails to protect the narcissistic, power-hungry young emperor. But they climb even higher as Sonya struggles to disentangle her own feelings from those around her (including those of the emperor), and as she discovers the great disparity between the wealthy nobles and the impoverished peasantry--and a plot to close that gap. Sonya has to decide who she cares for and what she truly values--a decision that may cost her life.

I loved the vivid, lush setting of the book (loosely modeled on imperial Russia). And though I didn't always like the choices Sonya made, she was a fascinating character struggling against very real odds and I desperately wanted her to succeed. I loved, too, the romantic intrigue (but I won't spoil it by saying too much about it). Now I just have to wait for book two.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

National Author Day!

Today is officially National Author Day, meant to celebrate authors! Seems like a fitting holiday to kick off NaNoWriMo. You can read more about the holiday here, but in the meantime, I'd encourage you to reach out to an author you know and love (whether published or aspiring) with a note of encouragement. Writing can be a tough business--writers have to both develop a thick skin AND remain sensitive enough to write nuanced emotions.

I'm hoping to do NaNoWriMo this month (words written on story today: 0) to finish the first draft of book 2 of my series. I've nearly figured out the plot--we'll see how faithful I still am at the end of the month!

Anyone else doing NaNo?

Friday, October 23, 2015


Dumplin' My absolute favorite thing about Julie Murphy's Dumplin' was its positive-body message: I wish there had been a book like this to read when I was in high school.

Willowdean Dickson ("Dumplin'" to her Mama) is a plus-size teenager with a big heart, who's generally accepting of her body. (But not always, which I liked, because what teen girl always likes who she is?). At her fast-food job, she meets a private school named Bo and not surprisingly ends up crushing on him. But to her surprise, he seems to like her too.

But Willowdean isn't as secure in the relationship as she hopes to be, and in an effort to reclaim some of her confidence, she decides to enter the local beauty pageant (which, not so incidentally, her mother runs) to prove that you don't have to look a certain way to like  yourself or feel beautiful. And when several of her misfit friends join in, even Willowdean can't predict the outcome.

Willowdean had a fun voice, and I liked that her friends were all distinct individuals with different voices. Some reviewers have charged Willowdean with hypocrisy for not always thinking nice things about her friends, but I think that just added to her realism. She's not perfect, but she's trying.

The romance was a fun side-note to the story, but for me the heart of the story was in Willowdean's relationship with her friends. A fun, quick read.

As a side note: I got to meet Julie Murphy at a writing retreat a couple months ago and she's just as generous and fun as you'd expect from someone who writes a story like this.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Writing in the gaps

Before kids, my writing time looked something like this: set aside a dedicated block of time (minimum four hours preferred), keep a stack of reference books and copious notes handy, write, reflect on writing, take a short break, repeat. Granted, most of that writing was seminar papers and a dissertation prospectus, but looking at it from this distance, I'm envious of all the time young me had for writing.

When my first child was born, that schedule disintegrated. Instead of planning my own schedule, I was suddenly at the mercy of a seven-pound tyrant who ate and slept according to some arcane schedule I couldn't quite grasp. For the first couple months, I was vaguely convinced I was going mad: I was sleep-deprived, overly emotional, and what little writing I managed to produce was so clearly inferior to what I'd done that I wondered if I'd lost brain cells with the delivery.

It did get better. I learned to write in the gaps, in the forty-five minute snatches of time when he'd nap, in the early evening after he slept. Of course, once he got old enough to really follow a schedule, we added a second child, and four years after that, a third. My youngest is now three and in preschool (hallelujah!) so my stretches of time have gotten longer and more predictable, but I still struggle with balance--with giving my whole focus to my children and then switching that whole focus to my writing. Some days I succeed. Other days (many other days), I don't. Like right now: while I'm typing away to meet a self-imposed deadline for this post, I failed to monitor my potty-training son, who just announced that he's "pee-pee." (That makes, for those keeping score, the third accident today.)

Oldest kid at 1, taking advantage of his mom's distraction to decorate the house with tissues

I am not the primary breadwinner in our household: we decided early on that while my husband pursues tenure at a university, I would stay home full-time and teach part-time and write in whatever cracks of time were leftover. This meant that in the early years of our marriage I did almost no creative writing, until I reached a point where I realized this was not simply something I wanted to do, but something I needed to do, a part of me I needed to reclaim from the wilds of mommy-land. Until recently, writing was an unpaid labor of love for me, which meant its priority ranked below parenting, teaching, other community responsibilities (but not, to my mother-in-law's chagrin, below housework). Though now that I'm on contract, I still struggle to shift my mindset, to remember that I'm entitled to the time to write--in fact, I'm contractually bound to that.

But there's never enough time for all the things I want to do--and the time I do have is frustratingly elastic. Hours when my son is at preschool or the kids are sleeping speed by; hours when I am home with the three-year-old seem to crawl by.  Before my first child was born, a good friend took me aside and warned me, “One of the hardest parts about being a mother is the boredom.” I looked around me at her comfortable home; at her two blond-haired blue-eyed children looking at a picture book near our feet; at the quilting project slung half-finished over the sewing machine; at the partially constructed puzzle on the floor–and I didn’t believe her.

Then I had my son. Once the initial shock and exhaustion wore off, I started to wonder if maybe my friend was right. Sure, there were those exalted moments when I snuggled my cheek against his, when I watched the tiny play of movement across his face while he slept, when we read books together and he laughed–but in between those moments were other, less exalting events: countless iterations of diaper changes, settling–again–in the chair where I seemed to nurse endlessly, and even, sometimes, trying to play with my son. Although he was fascinated by the colored blocks I offered him, there was only so much interest I could sustain in them.
It does get easier as they get older: their interests become more complex, they can sustain real conversations, and few things have been more thrilling than seeing my older kids get lost in books that I also love. But the time I spend with them is still not fully my time--it's time borrowed away from the stories I could be writing, the books I could be reading.

I wouldn't trade away that time, frustrating as it can be. I remember hearing a story about J.K. Rowling, whose child had asked her what she would choose if she could only do one: be a mother or a writer. She said she'd be a mother--but she'd be grumpy about it.

That's me, too. I'm a better mother because I'm a writer, because my brain has something to do when it's off the parenting clock (or, let's be honest, sometimes when it's on), because I have goals beyond making sure my kids survive.

But I think I'm also a better writer because I'm a mom. Writing has made me less precious about my writing time, which makes me both more flexible and better at time management--I can do in an hour now what took me two or three hours before kids. But more than that, nothing in my life has been so frustrating, agonizing, joyous, or surprising as parenting. And that deeper emotional range informs my writing in ways I couldn't have imagined before I began writing in the gaps.

This post is part of a parenting blog hop, part of Aliette Bodard's awesome brain child, something she began with several UK writers and graciously allowed a few US writers to crash. You can see the other posts here:

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Always Will

Melanie Jacobson is quickly becoming one of my auto-buy authors. Her romances are inevitably fun, smart, swoony (and clean, if that's your thing). I pre-ordered this one, and though my to-be-read list threatens to collapse under it's own rate, I snuck this one to the front of the pile and read it in two sittings.
Always Will
Hannah Becker has loved her brother's best friend, Will Hallerman, since she was a teenager. But as an adult, she's determined to put aside that childhood crush and move on with her life. That is, until Will, who lives down the hall from her (he took over her brother's apartment after her brother got married), decides it's time for him to follow her brother into nuptial bliss. Will approaches dating like he does everything else, with the full force of his not-inconsiderable mind (he's a literal rocket scientist). He tries out a variety of dating sites determined to eliminate "system inefficiencies" and find the perfect woman. His new approach only makes Hannah realize she's not over him--and this is her last chance to change his mind. But her attempts to manipulate his dating life only complicate things between them, and if Hannah can't find a way to make things right, she may lose Will for good.

I love the idea of a best-friends romance, and though I didn't always agree with Hannah's decisions, I spent the second half of this book with that pleasant kind of pain that the best romance books always bring out in me.

Monday, October 5, 2015

A School for Brides

A School for Brides: A Story of Maidens, Mystery, and MatrimonyI enjoyed Patrice Kindl's Keeping the Castle, so I was delighted to stumble across her companion novel, A School for Brides, in which eight young ladies have been sent to the country for a school to train them to be proper brides: the only problem? There are no eligible gentlemen in the country. So when Providence (in the form of an accident) drops a young man into the school for convalescence and his two good friends show up to keep him company, the girls are delighted and set to work winning them at once.

I thought this was a fun, clean YA regency. It wasn't particularly complicated (though I admit one of the romances did surprise me a little), but it was a great fluff read. Some of the characters were drawn more deeply than others, but all were affectionately characterized.

Monday, September 28, 2015


Blackhearts One of the biggest pleasures of being part of the Sweet Sixteen debut group is getting to participate in the ARC (advanced review copy) tours of books that aren't out yet for public consumption. So far, I've read some amazing books, and Nicole Castroman's was no exception. Nicole is also repped by Adams literary and we'd connected on social media over our shared love of BBC's Poldark, so I was particularly excited for this book. (Also, in a funny, small-world way, Nicole's sister-in-law was one of my roommates in college).

The story is essentially a Blackbeard origin story, how Edward "Teach" Drummond, after a year at sea, returns home to find his life mapped out for him by his wealthy merchant father, who wants him to marry into the nobility. But Teach yearns for the sea, and discovers that his fiancee isn't the woman he remembered. More, there's an intriguing young woman in his father's house whom he finds himself drawn to.

Anne Barrett is the illegitimate child of a merchant and a former slave--after her father's death, her half-brother establishes her in the Drummond household as a servant. But Anne also wants something better: she's determined to make a better life for herself than one of servitude. But then she meets Teach, and her plans become infinitely more complicated.

There were lots of things I loved about this story: I thought the historical setting was a lot of fun, and I loved the realistic depiction of Anne's situation and the hard choices she faced. But mostly, I loved the relationship between Anne and Teach.

Readers who go into the story expecting a swashbuckling pirate story may be disappointed, because this is not that story--but it's a frequently tense, romantic story with its own share of intrigue and danger and (yes) potential heart-break. Definitely worth a read when it comes out in January.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Sound of Life and Everything

The Sound of Life and Everything I might be prejudiced toward this lovely middle grade book because I've met the author (and my sister is one of the lucky early readers mentioned in the acknowledgments)--but I don't that matters much. The story is a powerful, heart-warming exploration of prejudice, love, and family in post WWII California.

Ella Mae Higbee's crazy aunt has found a scientist who thinks he can resurrect her cousin Robbie, killed at Iwo Jima, from some blood on his dog tags. But when Ella Mae, her mother, and aunt show up at the laboratory, it's to find a young Japanese soldier waiting for them instead of Robbie. While their aunt repulses the boy, it's up to Ella Mae and her mother to take him in, and find their lives transformed in exchange.

Although the science in the book is a little far-fetched and the premise might lead you to expect a more science-fictiony adventure story, the story is a touching look at friendship, as the boy (Takuma) becomes Ella Mae's best friend, and Ella Mae struggles to understand how his presence can unleash so much turmoil and hatred in her small town, even in her family. But I loved how fiercely Ella Mae and her mother fought for him, and for doing the right thing. A terrific look at a historical era and a great jumping point for discussions about prejudice and friendship.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Bone Gap

Bone Gap I started Laura Ruby's remarkable book on a plane a few weeks ago--and then set it aside for a little while because it was too creepy to read as my bedtime book. But it's a lovely, intricate, surprising story, fully deserving of it's National Book award nomination.

Bone Gap is a character in its own right, a midwestern town that holds its own secrets, nestling in a corner of the world where there are gaps in the bones that hold up the world, and things that come through those gaps.

Brothers Finn and Sean O'Sullivan are still reeling from the mysterious appearance of a lovely Polish girl, Roza, and from her abrupt disappearance--Finn all the more so because he knows she didn't disappear, but was kidnapped, and he can't get anyone to believe him.

Told mostly from the perspectives of Finn an Roza, the book is a wonderful, lyrical story of loss and heartbreak, about losing and finding love, about having courage in the face of the unimaginable. The book is billed as magical realism, which I can see, though I found some of the magic leaning a bit more toward outright fantasy, which didn't stop my enjoyment at all.

Monday, September 14, 2015

New website!

I have, thanks to the inimitable Tessa at Pop Color, a brand new shiny author website!

It's where I will have everything official and author related, and eventually I'll be migrating my blogging over there too. But for now, you'll mostly find me still hanging around here. :)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dear Pitchwars 2015

Dear Pitchwarriors--

(Including my own! Who is, as I write this post, still undetermined . . . )

Some of you will be reading this before the actual mentees are announced. Most of you are probably sick with dread, looking squint-eyed at the #pitchwars feed, half-hoping, half-fearing you'll see something that will tell you the fate of your manuscript.

I know. I was there last year. Right before Brenda announced the mentees on her blog, I was so nervous my entire body shook. I'm a pessimist by nature, so I was pretty sure I was out. And then my mentor followed me on Twitter just moments before the announcement and my hope immediately shot up.

It was painful.

And then elating. For a few days, I was on top of the world. Someone LOVED my manuscript. I was going to do a few edits, make it shiny, and send it out into the world for agents to shower me with praise and book deals.


Um. Not quite.

When I got my five-page single-spaced edit letter from my mentor, I wondered for a wild moment if she'd regretted picking my manuscript. Maybe she was overwhelmed and hadn't read all the entries and she was now cursing herself because she was stuck with this flawed manuscript.

(Turns out, this feeling is really common. Almost every successful writer has this moment, whether it's getting the feedback from your mentor, doing revisions with your agent, or that first edit letter from your new editor.)

For a day or two I couldn't even respond to my mentor. I was sure she hated me.


She didn't--in fact, she had a vision for my story that made it MUCH better. But it took me a few days to wrap my head around the changes (they were daunting) and start to be excited. Over the next two months, I cut nearly a third of my MS and rewrote it. I finished just before the agent round. It was brutal--but so worth it.

So what does this mean for you? 

If you don't get picked

This is the part that kills me. The contest is set up so that each mentor only chooses one. But really, most of us could have chosen dozens. I just want to hug everyone who's disappointed when the picks come out. And maybe add this:

It's not the end of the world. Really. This kind of contest is highly subjective, and not making it in really only means that your chosen mentors felt another manuscript was a better fit for them. Another set of mentors might have felt differently.

You've already done a brave thing by putting your work out there. If you keep putting yourself out there, if you keep looking for feedback and ways to make your writing better, it will happen. (And if you're looking for other contest opportunities, here's a start). It probably won't happen as fast as you're hoping it will--but it will happen.

Pitch Wars IS a great contest, but it's not the only way to an agent. None of my Pitch Wars requests ended in offers. (I actually met my agent at a conference. Two of my other offers were from cold queries).

Take a little time to wallow, if you need it (with your favorite poison: mine's chocolate). Revise, if you get feedback from the mentors that inspires you to. And then send your work out again.

I'll be cheering from the sidelines.

If you do get picked: 

Know that the roller-coaster doesn't end here. Some of you have already been in the query trenches: you get this. But the wild elation of being chosen and the crippling insecurity of reading through your mentor's notes and thinking, "How did I get picked if my story has that many flaws?" keeps going.

A lot of it will be hard:

It's hard to put your ego aside and take the critique that will make your story better.

It's hard to take your story apart without any assurance that it will be better on the other side. (It will be. Probably.)

It's hard to realize that no matter how much you think you know about writing, you still have more to learn.

It's hard to watch other people get more requests than you--in the agent round, and later when querying. (Tracie has a wonderful post on this, if you haven't already read it).

But there are wonderful parts too, so make sure you hold onto those.

Someone LOVED your manuscript. They loved it enough to champion it in the face of other mentor interest, and they're excited to work with you. You're about to get detailed, quality feedback for free that can help you turn your story around.

The community of writers is the best part of Pitch Wars. Really. Some of you have already connected on the #pitchwars feed, and that's a beautiful thing. Last year, as several people have mentioned, most of the mentees/alternates formed a private Facebook group that's still going strong. We've answered each other's questions, cheered each other on when agent offers arrived, and mourned when deals fell through or agents did. Reach out to your fellow mentees--you're all on this writing journey together, and it's so much easier in company.

And celebrate!

I'm learning that with this writing thing it's easy to focus on the next milestone (get into Pitch Wars, get an agent, get a book deal, get a foreign rights deal, get a starred review . . . ). But the milestones are never ending, so remember to celebrate the good things while you can.


To read the rest of the letters, please see the bloghop at Tracie' s blog. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Book Indulgences

I turned in my edits last Monday and spent the rest of the week indulging in a bit of a reading binge. Among this week's offerings: 

Simon v. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda Before picking up this book, I'd been hearing how adorable it was--and the book didn't disappoint. Simon Spier is the kind of warm-hearted, cynical, Harry Potter loving teenage boy you just want to hug. His voice carries the story, which is, in its essentials, pretty simple: Simon has been emailing with a boy (Blue) whom he may be falling for, and he's perfectly happy with his friends and his not-quite-out yet romance, until another boy sees their emails and not-so-subtly blackmails Simon into playing his wingman--or he'll tell the school Simon is gay. But the story isn't really about the blackmail, or Simon coming out, or even the question of who is Blue? (which I figured out fairly early). The story is more about what it feels like to be human, to fall in love for the first time, to navigate your changing self around family and friends who have known you forever, and figuring out how to be yourself. The story exudes warmth and humor--and can I just say how much I loved that Simon has a healthy family relationship? His parents are together, he actually likes his sisters, and while they're not perfect, Albertalli didn't unecessarily pad the story with angst in the form of family drama. I smiled a lot while reading this. Sometimes it even made me laugh.

Romancing the Dark in the City of Light, by Ann Jacobus.

Romancing the Dark in the City of Light I got an ARC of this book from the author, for review purposes. She attached a sticky note warning me that the story was not for the faint of heart, so I started reading with a little trepidation. But while it's true that the story IS dark, it's also a story about hope and redemption. Summer Barnes is in Paris for her last semester of school, hoping not to get kicked out here as she has every other school she's attended. She just wants to get through, and maybe hold a boy's hand. She meets Moony, a classmate recovering from a serious car accident--and Kurt, a hot older guy who shows her a part of the city she's never seen before. And while Moony charms her, Kurt stirs something dark and dangerous inside her. But this is not your typical love triangle, and the unfolding relationship between these three is surprising and even shocking. Much of the tension of the story comes from Summer trying to master her demons (drinking, a haunted past, feelings of loneliness and isolation) before she succumbs to the lure of ending everything.

This definitely isn't a story for very young readers (drug abuse, sexual situations, some language), but it's beautifully written and thought-provoking.

Courting Kat, by Stephanie Burgis

Courting Magic (Kat, Incorrigible, #3.5) Stephanie Burgis has created such a perfectly delightful heroine in Katherine Stephenson (Kat), that it's almost impossible not to be charmed by the novels. In this novella, Kat is all grown up (18), and enduring her social debut to please her sisters. When she's asked to take on Guardian business to find an illusionist who's been impersonating nobility and stealing from them, she's relieved--something to make this society business more endurable. That is, until she finds that three other Guardians have been assigned to the case as well, and they've been asked to "court" her to make their presence at the same balls less suspicious. Of course, since one of the young men is someone wholly ineligible from her past (not that this has made her stop thinking about him for the past five years), things get problematic very quickly. For me, this was the perfect mix of fantasy, humor, romance, and Regency and I adored it. Except, of course, that it wasn't nearly long enough!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Cover Reveal! Monica Wagner's FROSH

Monica has been a fixture in the YA writing community for the last few years, mentoring everywhere from Pitch Wars to the Writer's Voice. But she just got her cover for her upcoming NA, Frosh, and the book looks like so much fun!

Here's the blurb:

During welcome week at Hillson University, the FROSH will hit the fan.

Type-A aspiring journalist Ellie plans to take freshman year by storm. But hell-bent on breaking a huge on-campus scandal, she risks becoming one herself—and getting the mysterious, heart-melting QB in serious trouble.

Grant, star quarterback and charismatic chick-magnet, is hiding a life-altering secret. The last thing he needs is an overeager (absolutely adorable) journalist asking questions. He’s got a reputation to protect.

High-society legacy student Devon is ready to catch the football hottie of her dreams. If the tabloids feature her with the “it” boy on her arm, her tainted past will be buried—or so she thinks.

Charlie, pre-med, is done being the sweet and funny geek that girls like Devon ignore. But if he tries to impress her with a new edgy, spontaneous attitude, will his heart end up in the emergency room?

FROSH intertwines the stories of Ellie, Grant, Devon, and Charlie in Mónica B. Wagner’s sexy NA debut series, about falling in love and falling apart.

 Without further ado, here's the cover!

Displaying FROSHfinal.jpg

The book releases October 20th, and you can add the book to Goodreads here.

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Mónica was born in a Peruvian city by a snow-capped volcano. Growing up, books were her constant companion as she traveled with her family to places like India (where she became a vegetarian), Thailand (where she *almost* met Leonardo di Caprio), France (where she pretended to learn French), and countless other places that inspired her to write. Now, Mónica lives in Chile with her husband, three boys, eleven hens, and stray dog.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Pitch Wars Mentor Bio

Writers are supposed to be good with words, but all I can think to say is--I am so thrilled to be a Pitch Wars mentor this year! (If you're not familiar with Pitch Wars, it's a fabulous contest hosted by the equally fabulous Brenda Drake, where unpublished writers work with a mentor to polish their work before agents request pages. You can read a fuller explanation here).

I was lucky enough to be mentored by the fabulous Virginia Boecker last fall, and her insights made my book so much better. I got my agent (Josh Adams) a month after Pitch Wars ended, and sold my YA fantasy debut, THE BLOOD ROSE REBELLION (Fall 2016, first in a planned trilogy) to Knopf/Random House in February.

Pitch Wars was definitely instrumental in my success, and I'm so excited to get to pay it forward this year!

What I'm looking for:

 I'm a YA mentor.

I read widely in YA, so I'm open to anything, as long as it's well written. That said, I'm partial to fantasy (contemporary or historical) and historical novels. I love reading contemporary (Jandie Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun blew me away, and I adore Rainbow Rowell), but I was a bona fide nerd in high school and my high school experience is a bit dated. I do love a good sci-fi novel, but I lean toward space opera (think Miles Vorkosigan or Firefly) or light sci-fi. You can take a look at my Goodreads book shelf to see what I've read and liked, or scroll through some of the reviews on this blog.

I have a serious weakness for BBC period dramas: if you've got anything reminiscent of Poldark, Wives and Daughters, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Sherlock, etc., I will fight to the (figurative) death for your book! I take my historicals with or without magic. I'm not picky. But give me drama, an authentic setting, a bit of manners, smart dialogue, and a healthy dose of romance, and I will love you.

I also love fantasy: rich, sweeping epic settings with high stakes (think Marie Rutkowski's The Winner's Curse, Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia books) or vivid worlds with a folkloric feeling (Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Juliet Marillier's Wildwood Dancing), send them my way!

I adore contemporary romance (Kasie West, Stephanie Perkins) and would seriously consider anything in that vein, but I might not be as helpful as some of the contemporary mentors.

Mostly, though, I'm looking for someone who's not afraid of working hard to make their book better. If you're just hoping to make surface level revisions, or for someone to put their stamp of approval on the book, I'm probably not the right mentor. Good revisions take work--last year, I rewrote nearly 1/3 of my manuscript for Pitch Wars. While the revisions I suggest may not be that drastic, you need to be prepared to cut and rework.

I'm open to diversity as long as you've done your research and the characters are fleshed-out, compelling, and respectfully presented.

What I'm not looking for: 

I'm not a huge fan of thrillers or hard-boiled mystery novels; I also don't do straight-up horror or anything that's ultra violent. Dark, gritty realistic fiction is probably not a good fit for me either. I don't mind some sex or swearing in books, but lots of it is a turn-off for me (esp. in YA).

Anything above 100k words. Two months is not a lot of time to workshop an entire novel, and I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to give the level of attention I need to a longer novel.


What I can offer you:

I'm good at giving feedback on both big-picture and sentence-level issues. I have a PhD in English from Penn State, and I've taught college writing for over a decade. Giving feedback is part of what I'm paid to do professionally, and I love it. There's something so rewarding about seeing a piece of writing go to the next level.

For Pitch Wars, my feedback will focus primarily on big-picture issues: plot arc, characterization, setting, description, dialogue, etc. I won't focus on editing for grammar, though if there's a recurrent issue I will point it out.

Beyond that, my entry was fairly successful last fall in Pitch Wars (twelve requests and three ninja requests), so I have a reasonably good sense of what it takes to craft a compelling pitch and opening page.

My plan is to provide you with an edit letter that gives an overview to the strengths and weaknesses in your book, along with more detailed line edits in the manuscript itself. Ideally, we'll finish one round of revisions with time for me to do another read through before Pitch Wars.

Sometimes it's also helpful to know about mentoring style: I'm most comfortable working via email or google docs (I'm available to talk on the phone for crisis issues, but generally speaking talking on the phone makes my introvert self break into hives). I typically respond promptly to emails.

More about me:

If you're still reading, you're either unusually persistent or you're considering me as a mentor. Either way: hooray! I live in the red rock of the Southwest with three small children and a chemistry professor husband. When I'm not reading and writing, I enjoy cooking (if someone else cleans), watching BBC dramas with my long-suffering husband, hiking, traveling, and generally avoiding housework. I love: anything British, European cities, mountains, fog, rocky coasts, good chocolate, and sleeping.

If you think we'd be a good fit, send your manuscript my way! If you have questions relating to Pitch Wars, just send me a tweet @rosalyneves or comment below.

Mister Linky's Magical Widgets -- Auto-Linky widget will appear right here!This preview will disappear when the widget is displayed on your site.If this widget does not appear, click here to display it.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

YA Historical Fantasy, Part Four: Upcoming debuts!

One of the best parts of being a debut author is getting to meet lots of other new authors. I'm much more attuned to the new books coming out than I have been in the past, and I have to say that the next year or so promises to be a banner year for books in general, and particularly for YA historical fantasy.

Here are some books that I'm particularly excited for:

Mackenzi Lee, This Monstrous Thing (September 22, 2015)

This Monstrous Thing Mackenzie's upcoming Frankenstein retelling looks creepy and awesome all at once, and it's getting rave reviews. Here's the Goodreads description:

In 1818 Geneva, men built with clockwork parts live hidden away from society, cared for only by illegal mechanics called Shadow Boys. Two years ago, Shadow Boy Alasdair Finch’s life shattered to bits.

His brother, Oliver—dead.

His sweetheart, Mary—gone.

His chance to break free of Geneva—lost.

Heart-broken and desperate, Alasdair does the unthinkable: He brings Oliver back from the dead.

But putting back together a broken life is more difficult than mending bones and adding clockwork pieces. Oliver returns more monster than man, and Alasdair’s horror further damages the already troubled relationship.

Then comes the publication of Frankenstein and the city intensifies its search for Shadow Boys, aiming to discover the real life doctor and his monster. Alasdair finds refuge with his idol, the brilliant Dr. Geisler, who may offer him a way to escape the dangerous present and his guilt-ridden past, but at a horrible price only Oliver can pay…

Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, These Vicious Masks (February 9, 2016)

These Vicious MasksJane Austen meets X-­Men in this gripping and adventure-­filled paranormal romance set in Victorian London.

England, 1882. Evelyn is bored with society and its expectations. So when her beloved sister, Rose, mysteriously vanishes, she ignores her parents and travels to London to find her, accompanied by the dashing Mr. Kent. But they’re not the only ones looking for Rose. The reclusive, young gentleman Sebastian Braddock is also searching for her, claiming that both sisters have special healing powers. Evelyn is convinced that Sebastian must be mad, until she discovers that his strange tales of extraordinary people are true—and that her sister is in graver danger than she feared.


Heidi Heilig, The Girl from Everywhere (February 16, 2016)

The Hawaiian setting alone has me intrigued.
The Girl from Everywhere (From Goodreads) Heidi Heilig’s debut teen fantasy sweeps from modern-day New York City to nineteenth-century Hawaii to places of myth and legend. Sixteen-year-old Nix has sailed across the globe and through centuries aboard her time-traveling father’s ship. But when he gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end. The Girl from Everywhere, the first of two books, will dazzle readers of Sabaa Tahir, Rae Carson, and Rachel Hartman.

Nix’s life began in Honolulu in 1868. Since then she has traveled to mythic Scandinavia, a land from the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, modern-day New York City, and many more places both real and imagined. As long as he has a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place, any time. But now he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, before Nix’s mother died in childbirth. Nix’s life—her entire existence—is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years. If Nix helps her father reunite with the love of his life, it will cost her her own.

In The Girl from Everywhere, Heidi Heilig blends fantasy, history, and a modern sensibility with witty, fast-paced dialogue, breathless adventure, and enchanting romance.

Kathryn Purdie, Burning Glass (March 1, 2016)

 Katie's book has all the elements I love in a story: romance, fantasy, high society intrigue, set in a Russian-esque world. Plus, I've known Katie since before her book sold, and I can't wait to read this!

Burning Glass(From Goodreads):
Sonya was born with the rare gift to feel what those around her feel—both physically and emotionally—a gift she’s kept hidden from the empire for seventeen long years. After a reckless mistake wipes out all the other girls with similar abilities, Sonya is hauled off to the palace and forced to serve the emperor as his sovereign Auraseer.

Tasked with sensing the intentions of would-be assassins, Sonya is under constant pressure to protect the emperor. One mistake, one small failure, will cost her own life and the lives of the few people left in the world who still trust her.

But Sonya’s power is untamed and reckless, her feelings easily usurped, and she sometimes can’t decipher when other people’s impulses end and her own begin. In a palace full of warring emotions and looming darkness, Sonya fears that the biggest danger to the empire may be herself.

As she struggles to wrangle her abilities, Sonya seeks refuge in her tenuous alliances with the volatile Emperor Valko and his idealistic younger brother, Anton, the crown prince. But when threats of revolution pit the two brothers against each other, Sonya must choose which brother to trust—and which to betray.

BURNING GLASS is debut author Kathryn Purdie’s stunning tale of dangerous magic, heart-rending romance, and the hard-won courage it takes to let go.

Janet Taylor, Into the Dim (March 1, 2016)

Into the Dim (From Goodreads): “Her future is a thousand years in the past.”

Being “the home-schooled girl” in a small town, Hope Walton’s crippling phobias and photographic memory don’t endear her to her dad's perfectly blond, very Southern family. When her mother is killed in a natural disaster thousands of miles from home, Hope’s secluded world implodes. After being shipped off to an aunt she's never met, Hope learns there's more to her mother's "death" than she ever dreamed. At her aunt's manor, high in the Scottish Highlands, Hope begins to unravel the shocking truth about her family. Her mom isn't just a brilliant academic. She’s a member of a secret society of time travelers, and is currently trapped in the twelfth century in the age of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. To stage a rescue, the sheltered teen must join the Indiana Jones-wannabe team of time-jumpers, before her mother is lost for good. In a brutal, medieval world, Hope will discover more family secrets, and a mysterious boy who could be vital to setting her mother free…or the very key to Hope’s undoing.

Addictive and rich with historical detail, INTO THE DIM (Coming Spring 2016 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is an unlikely heroine's story of adventure, sacrifice, and first love, in a high stakes race against time itself.

The others are far enough out that they don't have covers, but they all sound amazing. 


Julie Eshbaugh, Ivory and Bone (May 2016)

Julie's new book has been pitched as a YA Clan of the Cave Bear, which sounds awesome. Here's the description:

The only life seventeen-year-old Kol knows is hunting at the foot of the Great Ice with his brothers. But food is becoming scarce, and without another clan to align with, Kol, his family, and their entire group are facing an uncertain future.

Traveling from the south, Mya and her family arrive at Kol’s camp with a trail of hurt and loss behind them, and hope for a new beginning. When Kol meets Mya, her strength, independence, and beauty instantly captivate him, igniting a desire for much more than survival.

Then on a hunt, Kol makes a grave mistake that jeopardizes the relationship that he and Mya have only just started to build. Mya was guarded to begin with—and for good reason—but no apology or gesture is enough for her to forgive him. Soon after, another clan arrives on their shores. And when Mya spots Lo, a daughter of this new clan, her anger intensifies, adding to the already simmering tension between families. After befriending Lo, Kol learns of a dark history between Lo and Mya that is rooted in a tangle of their pasts.

When violence erupts, Kol is forced to choose between fighting alongside Mya or trusting Lo’s claims. And when things quickly turn deadly, it becomes clear that this was a war that one of them had been planning all along.

Jessica Cluess, A Shadow Bright and Burning (August 30, 2016)

I've wanted to read this one since I found it was set in an alternate Victorian England (one of my very favorite eras!). And her pinterest board makes me want to read this even more.

A Shadow Bright and Burning is set in the early Victorian era, an alternate history in which sorcerers are advisors to the crown and magic is very much out in the open. 

England has been at war with the Ancients, a group of seven hideous monsters, for over a decade. Henrietta Howel, a sixteen-year-old schoolteacher in Yorkshire, is found to have active sorcerer powers. She shouldn't have them--women can't do magic--but is believed to be the sorcerers' long-awaited Chosen One. 

Brought to London to train, Henrietta enters a world of power and privilege she never could have imagined. In addition to mastering the elemental abilities of a sorcerer, she has to contend with the handsome and frustrating young men who are her fellow students. Despite the pressures of London society and the looming threat of war, Henrietta is determined to succeed.

But there's one great problem: she might not be the Chosen One after all.

Henrietta's ball gown
Found at http://buttercupbungalow.blogspot.com/2012/01/faded-fairy-tales.html

Roshani Chokshi, The Star Touched Queen (Summer 2016)

Roshani's upcoming fantasy draws on both Indian and Greek mythology, a premise that already shoots it to the top of my to-read lists.

Cursed with a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, 16-year-old Maya has only earned the contempt of her father’s kingdom. But when the ceremony for her arranged marriage takes a fatal turn, she becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Yet neither roles are what she expected. As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds friendship and warmth.

But Akaran has its own secrets — thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, mirrors that don’t reflect the viewer and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Beneath Akaran’s lush magic, she begins to suspect a sinister shadow that may be the key to understanding the horoscope that has shadowed her whole life. But to dig into Akaran’s secrets means betraying Amar’s trust. How far will she go to know herself? And what will happen when she finds out?

THE STAR TOUCHED QUEEN reinterprets the Greek myths of Hades and Persephone and Cupid and Psyche with the rich mythology and folklore of India.


Sarah Glenn Marsh, Fear the Drowning Deep (September 2016)

The description of Sarah's book reminds me of Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races, which I loved. 

Witch's apprentice Bridey Corkill has hated the ocean ever since she watched her granddad dive in and drown with a smile on his face. So when a dead girl rolls in with the tide in the summer of 1913, sixteen-year-old Bridey suspects that whatever compelled her granddad to leap into the sea has made its return to the Isle of Man.
Soon, villagers are vanishing in the night, but no one shares Bridey’s suspicions about the sea. No one but the island's witch, who isn’t as frightening as she first appears, and the handsome dark-haired lad Bridey rescues from a grim and watery fate. The cause of the deep gashes in Fynn’s stomach and his lost memories are, like the recent disappearances, a mystery well-guarded by the sea. In exchange for saving his life, Fynn teaches Bridey to master her fear of the water—stealing her heart in the process. 

Now, Bridey must work with the Isle's eccentric witch and the boy she isn't sure she can trust—because if she can't uncover the truth about the ancient evil in the water, everyone she loves will walk into the sea, never to return

Evelyn Skye, The Crown's Game (2016)

Set in an alternate 1825 Tsarist Russia--this one has so much promise!(And while you're at it, check out her cool website).

Sixteen-year-old Vika Andreyev can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Eighteen-year-old Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters, and with the Ottoman Empire and other enemies threatening Russia, the Tsar wants an enchanter by his side.

Two enchanters in the same generation, however, are a rarity. And a problem. There is only so much magic in Russia, and it cannot be diluted. So the Crown’s Game was invented, a duel of magical skill. The victor becomes the Royal Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected advisor. The defeated is sentenced to death.

The Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

Of course, they both want to win. Until now, Vika’s magic has been confined to her tiny island home, and she’s eager to showcase her skill in the capital city of St. Petersburg. It also doesn’t hurt that the competition allows her to express her mischievous streak. Nikolai, on the other hand, is a study in seriousness. As an orphan with not a drop of noble blood in his veins, becoming the Royal Enchanter is an opportunity he could, until now, only dream of. But when Vika and Nikolai begin to fall for each other, the stakes change.

And then, the stakes change again, as secrets from both their pasts threaten to upset the balance of the Tsar’s—and the Russian Empire’s—power.

The Game is so much more complicated than it looks.


Tara Sim, Timekeeper (Fall 2016)

Tara's book promises romance, intrigue, clocks, time-magic, and a fascinating alternate Victorian world. (I haven't read this one, but I've read another of Tara's books and she's definitely an author to watch).

(From Goodreads): Every city in the world is run by a clock tower. If one breaks, time stops. It’s a truth that seventeen-year-old Danny knows well; his father has been trapped in a town east of London for three years. Despite being a clock mechanic prodigy who can repair not only clockwork, but time itself, Danny has been unable to free his father.

Danny’s assigned to a damaged clock tower in the small town of Enfield. The boy he mistakes for his apprentice is odd, but that’s to be expected when he’s the clock spirit who controls Enfield’s time. Although Danny and the spirit are drawn to each other’s loneliness, falling in love with a clock spirit is forbidden, no matter how cute his smiles are.

But when someone plants bombs in nearby towers, cities are in danger of becoming trapped in time—and Enfield is one of them.

Danny must discover who’s stopping time and prevent it from happening to Enfield, or else he’ll lose not only his father, but the boy he loves, forever.

And last, the one I'm most looking forward to--only because it's mine, and it's still hard to believe it's going to be a real book some day:

Rosalyn Eves, The Blood Rose Rebellion (Fall 2016) 

In an alternate Victorian England where social prestige stems from a trifecta of blood, money, and magic, sixteen-year old Anna Arden is barred from the society she yearns for by a defect of blood. She believes herself Barren, unable to perform the most rudimentary spells. Anna would do anything to belong, but after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spells, Anna finds herself exiled with her aging grandmother to her grandmother’s native Hungary.

Her life might well be over.

But in Hungary, Anna finds that nothing about her world or her own lack of magic is quite as it seems. Fissures in the Binding that holds her world’s magic are expanding, and the ancient creatures bound by that spell beg Anna to release them. As rebellion sweeps across Hungary, Anna’s unique ability to break spells becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and gypsies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted—or embrace her ability, destroy the Binding, spark a revolution, and change the face of magic itself.

What books--historical fantasy or not--are you most excited for?

Sunday, July 26, 2015


After seeing Naomi Novik's newest, UPROOTED, recommended a couple of different places, by people whose judgment I trust, I promptly ordered it. And I'm so glad I did! It was a wonderful novel: rich, warm, deeply-rooted in the best kind of folklore. It felt familiar and new all at once, set in a world vaguely recognizable as Poland (here: Polnya) with magic.

UprootedAgnieszka has grown up in the shadow of the Dragon, the reclusive wizard that protects her valley from the Wood. Every ten years, he selects a village girl from the valley to come back to his tower. No one knows exactly what he wants them for (though of course there's gossip), but after ten years when he releases the girls, they never come home again. Oh, they might visit, but they're unalterably changed. Agnieszka belongs to the cohort of girls from whom the Dragon will chose his next girl, but everyone knows he's going to choose her best friend, the best and brightest and prettiest of the girls. Imagine her surprise, then, when the Dragon chooses her.

Her surprise deepens when she discovers, in the Dragon's tower, a latent talent for magic. A talent that might just be called upon to save not only her beloved valley but the kingdom itself from the encroaching evil of the Wood.

I think one of the things I loved about the story is that the hook here isn't huge: it's not some end of the world, wizards pitted to the death kind of scenario. But it's no less compelling and fast-paced for all that. The wood is a very real menace: the kind of thing nightmares are made of. (And the ultimate secret of the wood is startling and wonderful).

I loved Agnieszka. I loved the Dragon. (And I'm nerd enough to feel chuffed that I figured out the source for the Dragon's name: he goes by Sarkan, a variation of sarkany, a Hungarian shape-shifting dragon--a minor bit of trivia I would not have known except I've recently been immersed in Hungarian folklore for bookish purposes. Novik graciously confirmed my guess on Twitter). Their unfolding relationship is sweet and spiky and charming.

This book isn't for everyone--there are a couple of adultish scenes that make it inappropriate for young teens. But I loved it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

YA Historical Fantasy, Part Three: European

I'm not sure what it is about the shift in setting, but most of the historical fantasy books I've read with European settings are darker and more deeply rooted in folklore than their proper British counterparts (Clare Dunkel's Hollow Kingdom is a good exception to this). Personally, I adore both kinds, but for different reasons. I love the manners and courtly society--but I also love the earthier, almost fey approach of the latter.

Some of my favorites include:


Wildwood Dancing (Wildwood, #1)My very favorite 12 Dancing Princesses retelling (and TDP is one of my favorite fairy tales, so that says a lot). Marillier sets her retelling in Romania, so in addition to the enchanting otherworld beneath the castle, there's a lovely cultural setting. In this case, the culture and the story mesh perfectly. The story is told primarily through the point of view of Jena, second of five daughters, whose world is upset when her father goes south to recover from a mysterious illness and her cousin Cezar arrives, bringing with him dark secrets.

Elizabeth Bunce, CURSE DARK AS GOLD

A Curse Dark as GoldThis was a wonderful adaptation of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale. Charlotte Miller, as the miller's daughter, inherits her father's mill after his death and struggles to keep the mill going despite what she insists is mere bad luck, but may in fact be something much darker . . . The author has created a plausible world here, peopled with interesting and believable characters. Well worth the read. I'd recommend this particularly to readers who enjoyed Shannon Hale's Goose Girl--this has a similar feel. 


Jessica Day George, SILVER IN THE BLOOD

Silver in the Blood (Silver in the Blood, #1)From the moment I heard George was setting her newest book in 19th century Romania, I was intrigued. I loved WILDWOOD DANCING, and I've been looking for something like that for some time. And while this isn't quite that book--it was a different kind of enchanting (more in line with SORCERY AND CECILIA). Lou and Dacia are wealthy American heiresses with Romanian mothers. When they turn sixteen, they return to Romania to visit their extended family--and find, instead, that their family hides a dangerous secret and magic, and are sworn to protect the ancient Dracula family--including the handsome, charismatic (possibly unstable) prince Mihai. Lou and Dacia must defy almost every convention they've learned to stay true to themselves and save their kingdom. I thought Lou and Dacia were charming, and there was just enough grit and darkness to ground the story. Oh, and romance! The girl's suitors were equally adorable, but the romance was just a nice addition, not the main plot. 

Sun and Moon, Ice and SnowJessica Day George, SUN AND MOON, ICE AND SNOW

Another of George's novels, this Beauty and the Beast style story is a twist on a Norwegian fairy tale. The heroine, Lass, agrees to live with an isbjorn (ice bear) to save her family and finds, instead, that she must save the bear from his own curse.

Scott Westerfield, LEVIATHAN (series)

Leviathan (Leviathan, #1)(from Goodreads): Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men. Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered. With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

While this is technically more steam-punk than fantasy, Westerfield's concept is a fascinating alternate-history that envisions World War I as a conflict between the British Darwinists (who have bred fascinating air-borne creatures) and the German Clankers. The European world in the books is vividly imagined and fun to read. 


Still on my TBR list:
Naomi Novik, UPROOTED 
Robin LeFevers, HIS FAIR ASSASSIN series
Laura Whitcomb, THE FETCH

What other European historical fantasy books should I add to my TBR list? 


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

YA Historical Fantasy, Part Two: American

Most of the time, when I think of historical fantasy, I think of European (particularly English) settings--after all, a great deal of epic fantasy is loosely based on medieval Europe.

But some of the most interesting and refreshing young adult historical fantasy I've read has been set in the Americas. The following are some of my favorites (though I'd love to hear yours!)

Libba Bray, The Diviners

The Diviners (The Diviners, #1)In The Diviners, Bray creates an intricate and creepy historical environment (it kept me up late several nights running). It's the 1920s, and New York City is the hottest place in the world. Evie O'Neill longs to be there more than anything, and when her exasperated parents send her away from Ohio to live with her Uncle Will, the owner of a museum on the occult, she thinks this is the best thing that could have happened to her. But things aren't entirely what they seem in the city. Someone has roused the ghost of long-dead "Naughty John" and he's doing his best to fulfill his role in prophecy to rouse "the Beast" who will bring on the end of the world. And when people start dying, Evie comes to realize that her unique gift of knowing things about a person from touching something they own might help the police solve a particularly evil killer. One of the things I loved about this book was how the character's lives intersected in interesting ways, all set against the backdrop of 1920s NYC--the speakeasies, the booze, the jazz, even the quaint lingo. More than just period details, though, Bray smartly weaves in occult mysticism, various religious strains, philosophy (including Nietzsche) and so much more. With all that historical detail, it would be easy to bog the plot down, but Bray creates a strong plot as well.

Kiersten White, In the Shadows

In the ShadowsI loved this little gem of a book. In an unusual combination of text and gorgeous illustrations by Di Bartolo (husband of the fabulous Laini Taylor), this story follows a handful of teenagers in turn of the century Maine. Sisters Cora and Minnie have had an idyllic childhood, but a chance encounter with the local witch and the death of their father have changed all that. When Arthur shows up at their mother's boarding house, their mother claims him as a long-lost relative. But Arthur hides dangerous secrets about his past. Brothers Charlie and Thomas are sent to Maine for Charlie's health, and fall quickly for the sisters. Charlie is dying and Thomas overheard a strange conversation of his father's that suggests a darker purpose for their visit. When strangers start converging on the town, dangerous secrets begin emerging. I'll admit I didn't understand the art at the beginning, though I was intrigued. As I read, the graphic novel added a layer of depth and intensity to the story, because it made it clear that something big, something supernatural was happening. And White's prose was a lovely addition. Romantic, gothic, eerily beautiful--I read most of this in one sitting.

Kendall Kulper, Salt and Storm 
Salt & Storm Kulper's debut, Salt and Storm, is a freshly different, evocative story set in a mid-to-late 19th century New England whaling town. Kulper has clearly done her research on the whaling aspect: the setting felt real to me. The main character, Avery Roe, is the last of the Roe witches. She wants nothing more than to learn the family craft from her grandmother, but her mother forbids it. When the Roe magic starts failing, Avery's inexperience may spell ruin for everyone on the island. I liked Avery, despite her occasional prickliness and naivety. I loved that the story didn't always go where I expected it to. I didn't love the ending, but I'll forgive that for the historical atmosphere.

Renee Collins, Relic

Relic Collins' debut, Relic, takes place in 19th century Colorado, after Maggie Davis loses nearly everything in a fire on her family homestead. Maggie takes a job at a local saloon to provide for her younger sister, and encounters a variety of odd and entertaining characters. When Maggie discovers a latent talent for relics--in her world, the bones and fossils of extinct supernatural animals (griffins, dragons, etc.) hold residual magical talent--everything starts to change. She's drawn into the circle of the enigmatic Álvar Castilla, the wealthy young relic baron who runs Burning Mesa, who trains her in the use of relics. But when more fires like the one that killed her family spring up, Maggie starts to realize that the world of relics might be more powerful--and dangerous--than she knows. The world-building here was fascinating, and I liked the hint of Spanish-American culture that Castilla brought to the story. Mostly, though, I just want my own relic. Maybe griffin. 

Patricia Wrede, Frontier Magic trilogy

Thirteenth Child (Frontier Magic, #1)Wrede's Frontier Magic trilogy starts with Thirteenth Child. Eff (short for Francine) has grown up on the American frontier, not far from the Great Barrier spell running down the Mammoth River (the Mississippi, I think, though it might be the Missouri), which keeps dragons and other destructive magic-wielding animals on the far side of civilization. As her twin brother, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son, it's not surprising that Eff is often overlooked, particularly as she is the unlucky thirteenth child in a large family. The story is primarily a coming-of-age story, of Eff learning to understand and appreciate her talents even if her community mostly shuns her. Eff is a delightful character, and the world-building is impressive. Although the magical aspects make Wrede's frontier a very different place from the one we read about in history, she still delves into some interesting politics concerning settlement allocation. I also appreciated how well-conceived her magical world is. (I should note, the book came out to a fair amount of controversy because there are no Native Americans in Wrede's west. It's a fair criticism. I still enjoyed the story, and I think Wrede deals sensitively with a lot of other complex racial and sexist issues in her world, so I don't think the omission is entirely one of racial insensitivity as claimed.)
And of course, there's Orson Scott Card's fascinating Alvin Maker books--not YA, but worth a read all the same. The first book, Seventh Son, starts when Alvin is quite young. (The series is loosely based on the life of Joseph Smith, the first Mormon prophet).

On my TBR list:

Jessica Spotswood's Cahill Witch series (an alternate 1890s New England)

Suzanne Weyn, The Distant Waves (set on the Titanic)

Heidi Heilig's forthcoming The Girl from Everywhere (about a time traveler who ends up in 19th century Hawaii).

Are there any fantastic American-set historical fantasies I've missed?